FAFSA Season Is in Full Swing; Time is of the Essence
NEW YORK ( MainStreet) With the year-end holidays long gone and President's Day just around the corner, the FAFSA season is well under way.
FAFSA, the Free Application For Student Aid, is the Department of Education's (ED) gateway to federal student loans and grants. Not only are they mandatory to get a federal student loan, but also they must be filed to obtain a Pell grant and are used by all state- and many school-based student assistance programs. For the 2013-2014 school year, applications can be filed using the ED Website from January 1 to June 30. Corrections can be submitted FAFSA until September 20. Parents and students must obtain a PIN to electronically sign and retrieve data from the form.
First Lady Michelle Obama has been on the student loan stump, speaking last week at TC Williams High School in Alexandria, Va. where she pumped the timely submission of FAFSA.
Obama told the audience to "Fill out those forms, fill them out! Don't leave money on the table!"
Those remarks aren't without ambiguity. The money being left on the table is a loan that has to be repaid with interest a circumstance that isn't self-evident to many borrowers. Obama mentioned that "too many students don't even bother to apply to college, because they don't think they'll ever be able to afford it." The irony is that they don't find out until after they've borrowed the money that they will struggle to repay the loans that lies near the heart of the student loan crisis.
The New York Times reported that Education Secretary Arne Duncan also appeared at the Virginia high school event and that Obama praised the ED for simplifying these forms. But while they've been simplified, they still are not simple.
Determining the aid amounts each student receives, which is linked to family income, is one of FAFSA's key functions, often made difficult by the document harvesting process.
"There is widespread agreement that the current Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a barrier to college access," says The Institute for College Access and Success on its Website. "The FAFSA is longer than the federal tax form, complex, intimidating in tone, and requires a great deal of personal and family financial information that can be especially difficult for low-income students to track down. Most simplification proposals focus on reducing the amount of information used to determine federal aid eligibility. Concerns about equity and cost tend to stall such efforts, because they could change who qualifies for aid and how much aid they receive."
"ED has simplified the FAFSA as much as possible without changing the need analysis formula," said David Bergeron, vice president of post-secondary education at the Center for American Progress. "President Obama has sought congressional action to accomplish that but Congress has failed to act."